What to Know About Gel vs. Shellac Manicures

November 29, 2023
Ariel Wodarcyk
By: Ariel Wodarcyk | Makeup.com by L'Oréal
person showing off their gel manicured nails

When you’re after a manicure that lasts for weeks at a time without chipping, gel and shellac polishes are the way to go. According to Queenie Nguyen, nail artist for PAUME, “both gel nails and shellac nails [can] last up to two weeks” and in some cases, gel can last even longer. If you’re debating which service to book the next time you’re at the salon, you’ve come to the right place. Below, Nguyen helps break down what you need to know about gel nails versus shellac nails.

Gel Nails

What Is Gel Nail Polish?

Gel nail polish is a semi-permanent polish that will last up to two weeks while being shiny and more durable than regular polish,” says Nguyen. “Gel polish is required to cure under a gel lamp in order to set and dry instantaneously once you remove your hand from the lamp.” Gel nail polish can be applied on its own as well as on top of acrylic and dip powder nails to create different types of nail art, from classic French tips to more intricate designs like bows and flowers.


How Long Do Gel Nails Last?

Again, gel nail polish tends to last two weeks or slightly longer, depending on the care and maintenance of your nails as well as the initial application.


How to Apply Gel Nails

Both gel and shellac polishes are considered to be “soft gels,” says Nguyen, which means they are brushed on straight from the bottle just like you would a regular polish. Unlike a regular polish, however, both gel and shellac manicures need to be cured under a UV lamp to dry.


How to Remove Gel Nails

Gel and shellac polishes are removed in the same way. Below, Nguyen explains the steps. 

Step 1: “Use a file to roughen up the top surface of the gel polish to remove the shiny layer.

Step 2: Soak individual cotton pads or cotton balls with acetone.

Step 3: Wrap each fingernail with aluminum foil and let them soak for up to 10 minutes. Leave on a bit longer if the gel polish seems thicker. 

Step 4: Use a cuticle stick to gently push the gel polish off the nail plate.

Step 5: Use a gentle buffer to smooth out the nail surface.

Step 6: Apply a cuticle oil or cream like PAUME’s All-in-One Cuticle & Nail Cream to rehydrate and condition the nail plate post-removal.” We also love the Essie Roll-On Cuticle Oil.
essie roll on cuticle oil

Shellac Nails

What Is Shellac Nail Polish?

“Shellac contains a mix of both gel polish and regular polish, and [is] therefore less durable than 100% gel polishes,” says Nguyen. “Because shellac contains partial gel ingredients, it still needs to be cured under the gel lamp to dry completely.” Shellac polish is patented under the company CND, also known as Creative Nail Design. 

How Long Do Shellac Nails Last?

Like gel polish, shellac nail polish can last up to two weeks while retaining its shine. However, gel polish has the potential to last slightly longer than two weeks, as it is more durable than shellac.

How to Apply Shellac Nails

Shellac nail polish is applied just like a regular nail polish, but it has to be cured under a UV lamp to finish properly.

How to Remove Shellac Nails

Shellac nails are removed using the same steps Nguyen outlined above for gel nails. However, “because shellac also contains regular polish in the formula, it takes less time to come up from the nail surface from soaking and [is] easier to push off with a wooden cuticle pusher,” adds Nguyen.

Gel Nails vs. Shellac Nails: What's the Difference?

Ultimately, gel nails can last slightly longer than a shellac manicure, as gel nail polish is more durable. However, shellac manicures are easier to remove because the formula mixes traces of regular nail polish with the gel formula. Ultimately, both polish options will give you a manicure that will maintain its color and shine for at least two weeks. 

Photo: Nyah Visual Designer: Juliana Campisi

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